Sam Caster and Steve Burns are social entrepreneurs with a passion for helping children. After several decades of working in the network marketing space, they recognized it as the perfect business model for Social Business 3.0, as it provides a platform and distribution system that allows all people to benefit.
Sam and Steve spent three years together in the trenches looking for technologies, developing products, and helping to put together the social business model, which they recently merged in with an existing network marketing company that had good infrastructure and a willingness to support a true Social Business 3.0 platform.
As a result, the company is seeing unprecedented growth in both its customer and membership base. It implemented a dual recognition system that rewards rank advancement as well as the ripple effect of each member’s contribution. Incentive trips allow qualifying members to visit orphanages and see the impact of their “ripple” firsthand.
The company Sam and Steve now work with sees its members as “Facilitators of Hope.” In just one year, they have donated over 7 million daily servings of whole food nutrition to children in need. Their 10-year goal is to donate that much a day, thus resolving the global issue of malnourished children once and for all.—J.G.
What led you to the path you’re on today?
SAM: In the early 1990s I founded a direct sales company that provided advanced nutritional products to millions of people around the world. In 1997, my wife Linda and I donated a year’s supply of these immune supporting products to an orphanage organization in Romania, and the impact was overwhelming. The children’s health improved dramatically and for the first time in over a decade none of the orphans died from malnutrition-related issues.
It changed our lives forever and in 1999 we founded MannaRelief, a charity dedicated to providing advanced nutritional support to malnourished children around the world. My company provided a monthly donation to help cover our overhead, and our distributor base agreed to give up about 1 percent of their total commissions to help fund the donation of products to needy children.
After the economy began nosediving in late 2008, my company was forced to reduce and then completely cease their overhead contributions, and we experienced an overall reduction of contributions of approximately 60 percent. That meant we had to drastically cut our nourishment programs.
We then began receiving letters and emails from caregivers pleading with us to please find a way to resume our giving programs, as their children had begun to relapse into the same life-threatening conditions that they had previously experienced. That was absolutely heartbreaking and I began praying for the revelation of a more sustainable funding model.
Not long after that, I read an article from Harvard Business Review entitled “Can Entrepreneurs Save the World?” It was all about a new movement in business called social entrepreneurship, where a new breed of entrepreneurs were leveraging the technologies and profits of their new business ventures to provide sustainable solutions to the world’s biggest problems.
Through the “Buy one, give one” model, social businesses like TOMS Shoes and Warby Parker were flourishing, as consumers realized the global impact they could make through their own consumption. I knew this was the answer to my prayers.
I came to realize however that my company, which we took public in 1999, would not be able to support the level of giving required to facilitate a true buy-one-give-one model. Protecting shareholder equity and aggressive giving live on two different planets. By 2014, it had become clear to Linda and me, if we were to fulfill our destiny of nourishing the world’s most vulnerable children, we were going to have to leave everything behind we had worked so hard to create, and start all over again. And that’s exactly what we decided to do.
Steve, please share a little about your background and how you got connected to Sam.
STEVE: When I was born, my dad was duplicating reel to reels and audio tapes. Many of those tapes were for network marketing companies and their leaders. He also did work for Nightingale-Conant.
I grew up around some of the best and most famous personal development authors and motivational speakers known not only to network marketers, but to business in general. I also knew many of the top leaders in network marketing. It came as no surprise that I would eventually succumb to the allure of a business model that I saw was innovative, collaborative, and based on helping people.
My nutritional science knowledge comes from what is probably the most unique education anybody could experience, mainly because I didn’t even realize I was actually getting the education at the time. I have been recording, editing, and publishing educational materials for doctors for over 30 years.
As Sam and I started to look at what products we wanted to create for this project, we quickly realized how much the two of us had learned over the years. My love for nutritional science has grown to where I actually like reading research papers and consider biochemistry a bit of a hobby. It has given me a much greater respect for God’s creation.
When I began my network marketing career, I was running the multimillion-dollar family sales tools business. I managed to build several network marketing businesses that paid full-time income despite working them only part time. I also did consulting for several companies. When I learned about social business from Sam, I tried to convince a few of the companies I worked with to incorporate the model into their marketing plan.
Although the idea was universally liked, none of the companies were willing to fully implement the concept. Most direct selling companies have a giving component or are affiliated with a charitable organization. However, it’s difficult to convince a company to dip far enough into their profits to make a significant impact on a social cause.
Sam and I have known each other over 20 years. We’ve become close friends over that timeframe. When Sam shared his plans for a 3.0 venture, I felt alignment in purpose and business philosophy, so I put all my focus on building our dream of eradicating childhood malnutrition through a highly sustainable social business model.
For the next two years we worked day and night on developing that project and creating a true one-for-one Social Business 3.0 model.
My wife DeAnne and I had been staunch financial supporters of Sam and Linda’s charity for many years. It was a no-brainer to join Sam and work together, because it’s so fulfilling. I can safely say I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had, even though it’s tiring work.
Why did you merge your project into an existing network marketing company?
SAM: In the Harvard Business Review article, the author talked about the value of collaboration in expediting the expansion of innovative solutions that could change the world. We needed a collaborating company with the existing infrastructure and resources required to facilitate rapid international growth.
That company needed to be big enough to make an immediate impact, but small enough to completely transform itself into a 3.0 social business. Most importantly, we needed owners who would completely embrace the mission of addressing childhood malnutrition through a commitment of topline giving.
Of all the companies I knew, there was only one that met the requirements we were looking for. I had known its president, Craig Smith, for many years. On several occasions we had talked about the incredible success that social businesses were experiencing in the market. When we felt our project was ready for implementation, Craig arranged a meeting with the two founders of his company, Trey White and Brent Hicks, to discuss the possibility of collaborating on this project.
Trey and Brent were both successful business owners outside of network marketing. They had joined forces to create a network marketing company to help launch an innovative new product technology. As part of this new company, they had also established their own charitable foundation, so giving was in their DNA.
Trey and Brent’s response to our project was overwhelming, and within a month we were all moving full speed ahead on the conversion of their company into the first 3.0 social business to use a true buy-one-give-one platform for the eradication of childhood malnutrition.
STEVE: As we piloted the program, we realized we had “rocket fuel,” but we were missing the infrastructure or “rocket ship” to really take this into the marketplace and have scalability.
Several companies courted us to bring the model into their organizations. However, none of them were willing to do Sam’s true one-for-one model that we had both become so passionate about. It took owners like Trey White and Brent Hicks stepping up and fully embracing the concept. In fact, they didn’t even raise prices to bring Social Business 3.0 into their company.
They wanted to create more than just a business. They wanted the legacy of nourishing children and welcomed us into their company. They are watching as their company is having unprecedented growth due to the attractiveness of this business model.
There are many network marketing companies that have a great marketing plan, great products, and even great leadership. However, we know of no other company that supports a cause this big, at this level.
Our business philosophies were in total alignment with those of Trey and Brent. They wanted to do something of significance through there Hope foundation, but didn’t have Sam’s level of experience in social giving. They were like a lot of corporations that wanted to do good with some of their topline revenue, which is very different from giving away a portion of your profits—something many businesses never get to.
Trey and Brent immediately saw the power of what we were bringing to the table. It was an immediate fit for everyone!
In this issue we ask the question, “How can network marketers most efficiently acquire and retain customers?” What’s so compelling about what you have to offer?
SAM: We did an interview for Networking Times in 2013 where I explained the evolution of social business itself. In summary, we went from a 1.0 model, which is just social entrepreneurs doing their thing, to a 2.0 social business model, which is linking social entrepreneurs with major distribution partners. An example is TOMS Shoes.
In his book titled How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein says, “The big opportunity in the future will be Social Business 3.0, where entrepreneurs build platforms that allow all people to profit.” It’s clear to me and we show people how the compensation model of direct sales is the best way to facilitate the 3.0 distribution model.
One of the things I looked for when I was developing the social entrepreneur platform is a proven template. I wanted to find out if anyone had identified the key factors for making social business work.
It turns out Inc. magazine—in its social entrepreneurship column—did an excellent job of encapsulating the three key factors that make social business successful.
Number one, you need to connect your consumer directly with your cause, and the best way to do that is through a buy-one-give-one model. That way your customers don’t have to guess what’s going on, and how much is actually being donated. In our case, “buy one, give one” means when you consume, a child gets to consume. The company donates the exact same product to a child in need.
The second key ingredient is you must be serving the need of your consumer to the same degree that you’re serving the need of the recipient of the donation. So you need to find a problem, create a solution for it, and offer it to your customer base.
Finally, you need to have a proprietary product, because that gives you sustainability in the marketplace. If I want to feed kids every day, I have to provide a product that people can’t live without, and can’t get anywhere else.
That goes to the very heart of your issue of customer acquisition and retention, because from a social business standpoint, that sustainability is imperative. Otherwise you’re just asking for a donation. If you want sustainable solutions, you have to have products that fill a need that no one’s doing a good job of filling. And the products have to be proprietary to you, so that you can have that sustainable impact.
STEVE: The HBR article “Can Entrepreneurs Save the World?” explained how social consumption is 21st century giving. People can either write a check, or they can consume something that supports their cause. Consumers are demanding to give through their consumption, and this trend is likely to grow .
Social business has built a reputation in the retail space. Looking at TOMS Shoes, Warby Parker, and the entire movement, you may wonder, “Why use network marketing for Social Business 3.0?” Because network marketing companies have a unique advantage over the more traditional business models, in that they have a low-cost and fixed marketing budget based upon their compensation plan (the marketing expense will always be less than the maximum available payout, and commissions are only paid when a product is sold).
Traditional business models have a variable marketing budget based upon multiple impressions paid in advance of a sale. The money for the social program has to come from somewhere, and this important distinction-a “fixed cost” versus “variable cost” marketing budget—produces the economic advantage that allows a network marketing business model to be both competitive and profitable, while delivering the product to solve the social condition.
Additionally, the network marketing business structure can easily accommodate the three key factors Sam just mentioned, while still remaining competitive and profitable in today’s global marketplace.
Millennials especially are attracted to caused-based marketing. Being part of a global cause is one of their top criteria for choosing a career. They care less about money and social status than about building authentic connections and making a global impact. They are looking for life experiences that will enrich them as a person.
STEVE: We are very aware of and responsive to young people’s needs and what makes them tick. That’s why we have two levels of recognition in our company. We have the traditional network marketing/direct selling rank system that’s linked to our compensation plan, but we also have recognition based on the number of children you’re nourishing through your “ripple,” or your circle of influence. That’s one of the things that separates us from other business opportunities.
Of course, a company must have excellent products and a stellar marketing plan. They must have something that separates them from everyone else. Ours is purpose.
All that plays into this new model of customer acquisition and retention. The network marketing compensation model provides a way to facilitate a true 3.0 platform. Why did David Bornstein say that 3.0 is going to have the biggest impact? “Because the world has never been changed through institutions, only through people movements,” he says.
If you can compensate people for participating in a world-changing program they’re passionate about, they’ll drive it to the ends of the earth.
SAM: After spending most of my career in the network marketing space, what I found is the biggest obstacle to people succeeding is their fear of rejection. They are reluctant to talk to people, because they fear people will somehow think less of them. When you have the platform of social business anchoring your conversation, it’s completely different, because I can talk to anybody about saving the lives of children.
“I just joined forces with an organization that’s dedicated to solving childhood malnutrition, and they compensate people like us for helping to champion the cause. You may not want to do what I’m doing, but I can show you how you can help save the life of a child, simply by improving your own health and nutrition. Do you have a few minutes?”
It’s such a different “prospecting” approach that the average person can not only do it, but they can be successful at it.
What would you say to business-minded people who come into network marketing to make an extra $500 a month, and eventually maybe replace their income?
SAM: I would say that social business will be the most powerful movement network marketing has ever seen, because it gives us a legitimate, authentic reason to talk to people, beyond just “what’s in it for me.” It allows us to share what we have with a lot more people, so more people can participate and succeed.
Many of us are evaluating success a little differently these days. Part of it is economics, and part of it is fulfillment. What am I doing with my life? Everybody has to do something to make a living. What if I could do something that also transforms society?
When talking to a business person, show them the Inc. magazine article and template, and say, “How can you become wildly successful in social business? Number one, take on a massive cause. Number two, find a company that’s willing to adopt the buy-one-give-one model. Number three, fulfill a need the general public has (in our case, optimal whole food nutrition) that’s not being properly addressed, and fulfill it with a proprietary component. If you can do that, call it whatever you want, you have a solid business.”
STEVE: Let me bring this down from a corporate level to an individual basis. If you have an individual looking to make $500 a month, it’s still beneficial to have a why attached to that, other than just earning a living. Let’s say you’re out there sharing a product, or you could even be someone who drives for Uber. Yes, you’re helping people get from one place to another, but you’re not impacting the lives of many children.
In our business, by earning even just $500 a month, you’re now nourishing approximately 50 children every day. That’s a powerfully expanded why. You’re no longer building a business just for yourself, you’re also doing it for the children.
SAM: The crucial part to understand is that this is not charity. We’re not asking people to donate their time or write checks. We’re saying, “Social business is the most compelling business strategy of the 21st century, because it brings into the marketplace solutions to the biggest problems we have. It connects people to solving global issues in a way that gives them the feeling of authentic success. I can make a lot of money in any network marketing company, if I’m good, but I can’t change the world.
Your company is in full momentum. What’s working well, and what are some of the challenges?
STEVE: When we came on board with Trey and Brent’s company, they basically revamped the company’s marketing plan and infrastructure to revolve around this new model of doing business. It took a little bit of time, but the existing distributors also embraced our model. They began to understand the power of having the purpose attached to proprietary products. As that happened, we started to see a shift in thinking, a shift in the way they presented both the products and the opportunity, and a shift in the hearts of the distributors.
This started to cause month-over-month compounding growth, to the point where we’ve now nourished over 7 million children in just about a year’s time since this model was adopted. Recruiting has doubled in the last year and we’re seeing over a 5 percent compounding monthly growth.
Tell us a little bit what you do day to day, and how you combine the power of technology with the people movement.
SAM: Since we’re attracting more and more Millennials, we are choosing to use mobile applications as the preferred delivery system. We also provide digital video players to our members in what we call their “social business kit.” It makes it easy to share and present what we’re doing in a non-offensive, non-hyped way.
We organize incentive trips where we take our members to orphanages so they can interact with the children. Our members get to hear directly from the caregivers and from the children how this whole food nutrition is benefiting them and changing their lives.
Once we connect our members at that level to what we’re trying to do, it’s forever etched into their hearts. When they return from these trips, they go into a whole new level of sharing and recruiting.
STEVE: Sam and I are out on the road educating people about the products, the marketing plan, and Social Business 3.0. Every time we go to a city, we see a big spike in both customer and member signups.
The company even has a mobile app that shows the impact your purchases are making in the lives of children through your individual consumption and through your “ripple,” meaning the people you bring in as customers and members. It also shows the company-wide ripple, which is the effect of the entire company on the whole Hope movement. Nothing is more inspiring than pulling up that app up every day and seeing exactly what kind of impact you and your team are making in the lives of these children and members.
What’s your 5- to 10-year vision?
SAM: Over 6 million children a year die of malnutrition-related issues. We believe we have the best technology to address this problem. Our business strategy is to bring our cutting-edge integrative health technologies into the marketplace to serve the growing demand for better quality nutrition, and to then link those consumers to the needs of these children.
After delivering 7 million servings the first year, our goal is to do that many a day. Over the next 10 years we want to build a people movement that can actually accomplish that goal.
STEVE: When you look at the power of this model and who we are attracting, both inside and outside of network marketing, and what we have accomplished in the relatively short time since the company implemented Social Business 3.0, I believe we can achieve our goal in less than a decade. After that, we can look at the next social issue to tackle. The need for this model is huge. There is no shortage of social problems in the world. I hope that with our story and success we will inspire other companies to follow in our footsteps. I believe in this model and hope to help others feel the same way.
I can also see how this could improve the reputation network marketing has out there.
SAM: Social Business 3.0 will facilitate the most powerful shift network marketing has ever experienced. Add to that the instant credibility that comes from the pure impact of the model itself. Leaders from nations around the world as well as some of the world’s premier charitable organizations are already petitioning us for our unique support opportunities.
First, we supply the most advanced nutritional support instead of the least costly food components provided by the relief industry. Next, we fund the donation of these unique products through our social business platform. And finally, the impact of these whole food nutritional products is simply unprecedented in the lives of these children.
When we reach our goal of 6 to 7 million children a day, the world will write textbooks on how we accomplished our mission through Social Business 3.0.
STEVE: We’re enrolling a lot of people who at one point had said they were never going to do network marketing again. When they see this model, they say, “I have to take that back.” They’re coming in and working side by side with us, because they see the power of our program, and they develop the passion for what we’re doing here.
We’re also attracting a lot of young people. Millennials don’t just want to work, they want to take inspired action. That really speaks to the Millennial in all of us. Who wants to just work, if you can get paid to take inspired action?